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Treatment

Pneumonia

Mild pneumonia can usually be treated at home. Rest, antibiotics and drinking plenty of fluids is the usual treatment. More severe cases may need hospital treatment.

You should always finish taking your course of antibiotics, even if you feel better. If you stop taking them the bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotic.

After starting treatment, your symptoms should improve.

How quickly they improve will depend on how severe your pneumonia is.

As a general guide, after:

  • 1 week – high temperature should have gone
  • 4 weeks – chest pain and mucus production should have reduced
  • 6 weeks – cough and breathlessness should have reduced
  • 3 months – most symptoms should be gone, but you may still feel very tired (fatigue)
  • 6 months – most people will feel back to normal

Treatment at home

Talk to your GP if your symptoms do not improve within 3 days of starting antibiotics.

Symptoms may not improve if:

  • the bacteria causing the infection is resistant to antibiotics. Your GP may prescribe a different antibiotic. They may prescribe a second antibiotic for you to take with the first one
  • a virus is causing the infection, rather than bacteria. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses.

Painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, may help relieve pain and reduce fever.

You should not take ibuprofen if you:

  • are allergic to aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • have asthma, kidney disease or a history of stomach ulcers.

Cough medicines are not recommended as there is little evidence they are effective. A warm honey and lemon drink can help relieve discomfort caused by coughing.

You may still have a cough for 2 to 3 weeks after you finish your course of antibiotics. You may feel tired for even longer as your body continues to recover.

Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and get plenty of rest to help your body recover.

If you smoke, it's more important than ever to stop, as smoking damages your lungs.

Read more about how to stop smoking.

Talk to your GP if your condition is getting worse or is not improving as expected.

How pneumonia spreads

Pneumonia is usually caused by viruses or bacteria passed from one person to another. Healthy people are normally able to fight off these germs without pneumonia developing. It's usually safe for someone with pneumonia to be around others, including family.

People with a weakened immune system are less able to fight off infections. They should avoid close contact with a person with pneumonia.

Follow-up care

You will have a follow-up GP appointment about 6 weeks after you start your antibiotics.

In some cases, your GP may arrange follow-up tests, such as a chest x-ray, if:

  • your symptoms have not improved
  • your symptoms have come back
  • you smoke
  • you're over the age of 50

You may be advised to have a flu vaccination or pneumococcal vaccination after recovering from pneumonia.

Treatment in hospital

You may need treatment in hospital if your symptoms are severe.

In this case, you:

  • should be given antibiotics as soon as possible
  • may be given fluids through a drip
  • may need oxygen to help you to breathe

In very serious cases of pneumonia, you may need a ventilator to help you breathe.

Aspiration pneumonia

If you've breathed in an object that's causing pneumonia, it may need to be removed.

An instrument called a bronchoscope may be used to locate and remove the object. This procedure is known as a bronchoscopy.

page last reviewed: 06/04/2020
next review due: 06/04/2023